Excerpts from Leroy Cooper's memoir as told to me during conversations that took place during the 2 years we knew each other. I also write humor, flash fiction, celebrity interviews, real and made up stories--see if you can guess which are which.
Monday, September 28, 2009
The sun came up this morning and with it so did my mood. My blues were gone and I was ready to write, work and edit. The editing is the most important thing at this point.
Transcribing hours of conversations and interviews into documents is a grueling process. If you think the work ends there, my friend, you are sadly mistaken. The project of writing a memoir is similar to what happens in a forensics lab. Scientists find a burial site. Just under the surface of the dirt they discover piles of bones; lots of them. Carefully, they begin to recover these relics and return to the lab with each bone in tact.
At the lab comes the interesting part. In my mind it's like solving a puzzle. Take this pile of bones and lay them out in the perfect order to recreate those of a human being or an animal, without knowing which. Of course, this theory assumes you are a scientist and have done this before.
Finding the skull is easy. You work your way down from there. Then you find another skull. Hmmm. How many bodies do these bones belong to?
Working with the transcription for a writer can feel the same as the forensics specialist. Starting at the beginning -- wait a minute, which is the beginning? When the person was born? Do you start there? "I was born in South Dallas." Boring.
"I joined the Ray Charles Band in 1957." More interesting, but not really the beginning. Maybe it's better to start in the middle and then move back to childhood when a connection is made.
Put another way, if you were writing the story of your life and hoping that someone would want to read past the first page, would you start out with when and where you were born? Do you think anyone would keep reading past the day your mother brought you home from the hospital?
Biographies and books about famous people don't always work that way. All of the information, conversation, interview material should be compiled into an order that makes sense, holds the readers interest but follows some timeline. Then research is required to fact check stories.
For those who think it's a simple process of relating a person's 80 years of life in an interesting manner, please be informed. Transcription may be grueling (or expensive if you pay someone else to do it) but editing the resulting documents into a book is where the serious challenge comes in. The transcribed document would be just a memoir. Without putting that information into context, though, a lot would be lost.
The additional interviews and contributions from friends of the subject make him 3-dimensional. The photos of him in Europe with Ray Charles in 1975 define him in his element -- cigar in hand, empty plates on the table and an after dinner drink in front of him while he speaks to a photo-journalist.
I've learned my lesson and have finally gotten into a frame of mind where the big picture is coming into sight. It was a long time coming but that light at the end of the tunnel has just turned to daylight, not an oncoming train.